Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Value of Learning to Lead & Follow Well

We all want to be strong leaders, whether we are designed for leadership or not. It’s in our nature, part of our attention-seeking wiring. We want to influence others and have our ideas catch on.

This can be an entirely noble pursuit, but we are amiss to pursue leadership with vigor if we pay no mind to what it takes to be a strong follower as well. Some of the greatest people to work with (and let’s face it, to be around and befriend) have a keen understanding of how to lead and also how to respect when they’re not in the lead—how to follow with dignity.

I’m fleshing out eight valuable results of learning to lead and follow well:

We Demonstrate Humility
We don’t always have to be the one talking, guiding, instructing, or bossing. We’re all given numerous opportunities to follow someone. Currently, I lead and follow as an assistant soccer coach. I follow the lead of the head coach (and am blessed to do so because she’s shaping a mighty team with a lot of emphasis on sportsmanship).

We Show Respect
When we effectively lead and follow, we exude the understanding we don’t always need to be in control. We allow others to make imperative decisions and abide by them.

It Becomes Clear We Know How to Listen
Following well is an outward sign we take heed to what others think, to the direction and vision they are hoping to move.

We Prove We Don’t Lead with a Dictator Mentality
No one likes a bossypants. Everyone appreciates when they feel heard. No matter what kind of leadership role we find ourselves in, it serves us well to give all parties a voice. Heck, we might learn a boatload in the process.

We Practice What We Preach
A real do as I do example. If we are following well, we are modeling the very behavior we hope to see from those we lead.

We Express the Understanding There’s a Time for Everything
I’ve led over sixty women in a rockin’ mom’s group before. I’ve also taken a step back and have served with a more sidelines effort. From both of these roles, I gleaned a finer grasp on how there’s a time for everything. I had to assess my priorities before I slid into each role and they both suited my goals at the time. Not always having to be in the lead speaks volumes about our character and our ability to trust others when their time comes.

We Grow In Both Roles by Witnessing Examples of What to Do and What Not to Do If ever there’s a prime time to learn, it’s when we are on the sidelines. We teach our kids this in soccer. Half of them are content to weave daisy chains and gobble up the Smartfood popcorn, but we encourage the players to be watching when they’re not on the field. In our time of following we are bombarded with excellent examples of best practices and moves that flop. We are prudent to take notes, to observe with a heart for learning, because we might miss something vital that could change how we lead.

We Gain Experience and Wisdom
In both a leader and fo
llower roles we are building our empathy meter. We are gauging what it feels like to be subordinate to someone. At the same time, we are offered a rare gift of being able to navigate and steer as a leader. A sound leader is aware of the temptation of pride and control. A sound follower is in tune with the temptation to become bitter and lazy. Wise are the leaders and followers who fight said temptations and grow in their current callings. (That sounded a little Yoda-ish…yeah Yoda!)

Any examples of when or how you grew in a leader or follower role?

*photos by flickr


  1. These are all great and I love the pictures of the ducks!

    I agree on all of them. I there is a season to leading and following. No I'm not going to sing Turn Turn Turn, but just like when you led the moms then took a sideline approach. I've found this to be true in my life as well. Each role brings great lessons, if we'll look for them and listen! :)

    Excellent post today, Wendy.

  2. These are great tips! I don't care to lead if someone else will do it, but if no one else is doing it, then I'll step up. I prefer doing my own thing but I like to think that I can follow well and listen well. I hope. LOL! I'm sure my character has been shaped. Being a mom has forced me into a leadership role and I've learned all sorts of things, what to do, and what NOT to do. Heehee! (I didn't know you coach soccer. I love soccer!)

  3. I spend much of the first three decades of my life trying to be the leader everyone said I ought to be. When I finally realized that the Lord hadn't wired me that way and embraced my role as a follower, I found such contentment in that. However now--over a decade later--He seems to be gently nudging me out on the ledge of leadership. Not in permanent ways (at least not yet!), but moments of leadership I'd never been able to do before. And while that is still scary to me, I've at least learned to be such a devoted follower of the Lord that if that's what He asks, I'll step out in faith.

  4. In most situations I hesitate to lead. It took five years before I agreed to lead the women's ministry at church.

    Anytime I do anything for Christ I feel awed that He would choose to use someone as unworthy as me. I can't lead without Him:)

    Truthfully, I look at it more like serving that helps me steer close to humility.

  5. Oh, both the humility and relief I learned when I let go of some responsibilities.

    Humility in that they really COULD run without me at the helm.

    Relief that I didn't have to be in charge of everything and could concentrate on the things I should be doing.

  6. Listening is such an important part of being a good leader.

  7. I think the most engaging people know both when to lead, and when to sit back and listen. It's something I'm always working on!

  8. I think the one of the most powerful examples of leadership I've seen is a mentor I had who was willing to listen to those he led and took the time to ask their opinions.

  9. I'm the oldest of four, so I grew up being the leader among my siblings. OK, they'd say bossy big sister, and there's more truth to that than I like to admit. I've had to learn to do a better job as a leader because I certainly didn't when I was younger. I've been privileged to watch some great leaders in action and have picked up valuable pointers from them. Got some more from your great post today, Wendy. =)

  10. I think one of the most important qualities here is that of listening, whether we're leading or following. A good leader always is in tune, still, with those that follow. It forms a connection, somehow, between the roles.

  11. I used to want to lead when I was in high school, it was just a natural role for me. Now I find myself so much more content as a supporter instead of a leader, which I never would have expected when I was younger. Funny how we change as we grow. Good post!

  12. Listening is big and treating others with respect. When I lead a group, I want everyone's opinion and input then I like to guide those thoughts forward.

    PS. YES! We get one of those cheap last minute flights to Italy and just go together! I'm making you pinky swear to that. :-)

  13. This actually comes as a great counterpart to Jody Hedlund's post today. Sometimes we have to be team players, but other times we have to be leaders or innovators. Great post!

  14. I'm so with you on this one, Wendy. I'm often given opportunities to lead various volunteer venues, but just because I can, doesn't mean I should. By following and helping out as I can, I'm better able to lead in the important areas of my life.

  15. as a leader (supervisor) of interns, one of the first conversations i have during supervision is to ask them how they like to receive feedback and to tell them how i like to receive feedback as well. this clears the air in times of friction in the future. it's just good practice. :)

    hey...SO glad the comment thing is working now! :)

    the character therapist

  16. Love, love, love this post, Wendy!
    So much I want to say ... but I'll settle for I'm bookmarking this page! I grew the most as a leader when I led women's ministry for three years. My most valuable lesson: Lead from the rear. And let others use their giftedness. You'll learn a lot.

  17. Excellent advice, Wendy--thank you!

    I love those swans and their mama.

    I don't enjoy leading, even though I'm full of ideas. But the Lord seems to always put me in leadership roles. I'm sure to teach me all these things you've been sayin'.

  18. Excellent, Wendy! In some ways, I've always been a leader because I am the oldest of my three sisters. In other ways, I am a follower, particularly of Jesus.

  19. Admit your faults, practice humility, practice what you preach. Love it.


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